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Construction in America

Organizing our Industry’s Disorganization With a Lean Culture

Staying on schedule and within the allowable budget and expectations set by the owner is the goal of any construction project; however, more than 50 percent of surveyed owners said they are “frequently unsatisfied” with the final cost, schedule and quality of construction projects as found in the Why Projects Excel research conducted in 2016.

What is causing this low satisfaction? Approximately 57 percent of the work performed on a construction site is waste, according to a 2004 study by the Construction Industry Institute. Waste is created when people, time and materials are not organized effectively and directly impacts the project cost, schedule, and quality, says LCI’s Director of Education Programs Kristin Hill.

The impact of disorganized people, time, and materials

If a project is running behind schedule, we traditionally see teams “stack” the trade partners. Stacking the trades results in too many people working too quickly in a space that is too small to maintain a high quality of work and a low risk of safety incidents. This disorganization increases risk for all stakeholders and creates tension as each company attempts to mitigate its own risk individually by pushing blame to the next trade in the project schedule.

When materials are not organized effectively, waste appears while quality and safety suffer. Team members often move material several times or end up working around materials, which increases the risk of jobsite injuries or death.

The Lean solution to industry disorganization

Lean design and construction offers a better way to deliver projects to the owner’s satisfaction by offering a comprehensive system of processes and culture to improve safety, reduce waste and increase project value.

A 2016 Dodge Data & Analytics research study shows 70 percent of projects with a high Lean intensity were completed under budget, while only 39 percent of projects with low Lean intensity experienced the same success. Similarly, 45 percent of high Lean-intensity projects came in ahead of schedule compared to just 15 percent of low Lean intensity projects.

What makes Lean effective? Lean tools and processes such as the Last Planner System™ (LPS™), prefabrication and others allow the entire team to realistically plan and better organize its people, time and materials.

Teams implement the LPS™ on projects to give a voice to the trades or to those who actually perform the work. Those team members can effectively organize and monitor daily progress in small batches to immediately see variation from the schedule. Then, the team can take action right away to rectify the issue before it creates larger problems such as those caused by disorganization.

“Because every team member has an active voice, the team is able to capture a broader perspective of risks involved with the project,” Henry Nutt, sheet metal superintendent at Southland Industries, says in this Occupational Health & Safety article.

Lean is more than tools — it’s a way of thinking

Lean tools and processes are vital to achieving better project outcomes, but it is the cultural shift toward continuous improvement and Lean thinking that empowers everyone to collaboratively identify and reduce the 9 wastes, which are explained in LCI’s book Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change and listed below:

  1. Transportation — unnecessary movement of material by people
  2. Inventory — excess materials on the jobsite
  3. Motion — unnecessary movement of people
  4. Waiting — when work-in-progress is pending for the next step in production
  5. Over Processing — processing more than necessary
  6. Over Production — making something before it is truly needed
  7. Defects — production that is scrapped or requires rework
  8. Underutilized Talent — underutilizing talents or resources available
  9. Over Burdening — excessive demand on system.

“The disorganization of people, time, and materials will increase the likelihood of a safety incident occurring,” Kristin says. “But Lean brings the project team together early on to collaboratively mitigate safety risks and to organize people, time and materials in a way that will meet the owner’s satisfaction in schedule, cost, and quality.”

Our industry is lagging, and it is Lean culture and tools that lead project teams from typically underperforming to meeting or even exceeding the owner’s expectations.

Kristin Hill, Director, Education Programs, LCI [email protected]

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